Rachid Hami’s new La Melodie/Orchestra Class in the French Film Festival is heart-warming. I tend to hate that. The film extends the line of items like Jean Dréville’s 1946 La Cage aux Rossignols and its 2004 re-make Les Choristes and, even closer, Wes Craven’s 1999 Music of the Heart or Sergio Machado’s 2015 Tudo Que Aprendemos Juntos/The Violin Teacher.
Kad Merad (L’Italien, Bienvenue chez les Ch'tis) is a concert violinist who finds himself signing on to teach in a Paris banlieue immigrant middle school. Merad has a couple of challenges here - convincing us that he’s not being funny and that he can play fiddle.
The movie gets us on side early when it becomes clear that he’s the worst music teacher since Professor Harold Hill. He does wow the kids with his demo but even that is cut short by the school electrician who has to fix the faulty wiring. Credibility is re-enforced by an awful rehearsal that reduces the Indian girl to tears.
Melodie asserts itself, not elaborating its formula story line but handling it with understated film form. Casting must have been half the battle, getting child musicians who could play and act. Did Hami recruit them from the performers from the giant Philharmonie show that makes up the film’s climax? I’d like to know more about that.
His film drives on alternating expressive close-ups of the pros and the kids and spacing them with scenics shot over the roof tops that show the bright lights and the Eiffel Tower, distant both physically and symbolically. One piece of music cuts without comment to the high rise housing project at night.
The film’s narrative takes second place to this. Chubby young black Alfred Renely is first seen peering through the window of the class for which he was not selected and proves to have both talent and daddy issues. Finding him must have been brutal. The other members of the multi-cultural class (there’s one nervous white boy) get different amounts of emphasis depending I would guess on the editor’s ability to select telling shots of them reacting and playing. It occasionally comes as a surprise to discover that one we haven’t seen for a while is still around.
Merad shines. His own uneasy relationship with his daughter remains marginal, another of those moments of truth movie families are having in skating rinks right now - think Molly’s Game and I Tonia. Events threaten the project. There’s also a depiction of Merad’s own quartet’s performance which gets him the offer of a tour that will mean abandoning the kids.
We know how it’s going to work out but both the Philharmonie performance of “Scheherazade” and the spontaneous pizza party afterwards are irresistible.
The piece has a local distributor logo on the front which means there is a chance that it will get to the audience that might enjoy it as much as I did - and at sensible prices.
Some plots of been around the track too often and they are getting a bit tired. Cyrano de Bergerac became the one about the substitute soldier photo in the nice Jules Dassin 1946 Letter for Evie and Norman Krasna’s 1947 Dear Ruth as well as the Jose Ferrer and Depardieu versions and Steve Martin doing Roxanne. Well here it is back again for the Internet age as Stéphane Robelin’s Un profil pour deux/Mr. Stein Goes Online.
Seventy-five year old Pierre Richard discovers dating sites and emails the picture of his computer maintenance guy Yaniss Lespert (brother of Jalil) to the implausibly appealing Fanny Valette, psyching the guy into taking the Brussels train to a meeting, which Richard watches from a distance.
There’s counterpoint in Richard showing faded 8mm home movies in his cluttered flat and his daughter Stéphane Bissot trying to have him get out more. Things are complicated by the fact that Lesprit is Richard's granddaughter’s boyfriend and the guy’s in the middle of drafting a TV pilot - this does generate the film’s best gag.
Director Robelin seems to be specializing in codger cinema with this and Et si on vivait tous ensemble?/All Together (2011). It is nice to see Richard again, with Macha Méril in the mix and Gustave Kervern figuring briefly. As in his great days with Francis Veber, Richard is backed by another great Vlad Cosma score but the basic premise that this one rides on has been thrashed before and becomes labored here, not helped by the makers determined to make things as inoffensive/charming as possible. Nice location shooting though.